Recently, my two children were allowed to ride their bikes (without me) to a local coffee shop to buy themselves a couple of doughnuts on a Sunday morning. No big deal, right? Wrong. The invasion of Normandy required less advance planning. Helmets securely fastened? Check. Mental map of the intended path with areas of potential hazard discussed? Check. Strict instructions to stay together? Check. Cell phone to call me when they arrived safely? Check. Me waiting anxiously for the phone to ring? Check.
The trip was a success and the kids were thrilled to have had this small freedom and sense of independence. I was happy to give it to them. I remember loving this feeling as a kid. These breaks from parental supervision weren’t just fun, but important. Right or wrong, my parents allowed a much wider circle of freedom for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give my own kids such a long tether – partly because what was typical parenting back then would almost be considered negligent now. My peers and I were often left to our own devices where it was assumed we would appear at the end of the day relatively unscathed.
And yet, danger does lurk and children are vulnerable. So we worry – as parents have always done. Did I mention the bike trip took only about 30 minutes and was almost exclusively on sidewalks? But my fear is real – something mighthappen to them. Although something will definitely happen to my children if I don’t let them develop self-confidence by letting them be independent.
Kids think they can handle new situations when they sense we (parents) believe they can. If we give them the message they can’t rely on themselves, we succeed in making them anxious, fearful and insecure – attributes the world will definitely take advantage of.
Our challenge is temper our need to keep them safe with their need to take risks. I suspect this is one of the many push-pull areas we will have in our relationship with growing children. Making the job harder is that each new freedom must be considered on a case-by-case basis.We have to continually feel our way in the dark and hope the risks we allow are the right ones.
If you know how to do this, please tell me. Today it was doughnuts – who knows what path is in store for us tomorrow?